Meet author Patricia Polacco

[tweetthis]When I was a little girl, I wrote everything as if I saw things through a mirror.  My persistent and diligent mother re-wired my brain before I left Kindergarten. [/tweetthis] To find out more, click here.

English: An old exit sign that does not meet m...

Patricia Polacco wasn’t so lucky.  She was fourteen when she began to read.  To explain how her brain works, Patricia pointed to the exit sign at Glacier Ridge Elementary School.  “You see the red letters that form the word ‘EXIT’,” she said.  “I see the white that forms the pattern around the red letters.” She went on the say that when she was in 1st grade, that wasn’t so bad. the letters were large and the space between lines generous.  It’s when the text became smaller and the lines tighter, it became impossible to decipher the patterns around the letters.  Can you imagine reading this post by deciphering the pattern of the white space? She credits George Felker for helping her learn to read. He brought in a reading specialist before reading specialists existed. “He taught me the meaning of things morphing in and out of space.”

Patricia may be my author-hero.  She’s written and illustrated 115 children’s books.  She holds a boatload of degrees, supports teachers and First Amendment Rights, and won a ton of literary awards.  On top of that, she didn’t start writing books until she turned 41, and now at age 73, she’s touring sharing “fireside” stories with school children.  For more about Patricia’s accomplishments, and to find out what she’s up to next, visit her website.

Patricia credits her storytelling to her family’s legacy of storytellers.  When she was a child, she’d ask her grandmother, “Are your stories true?” and her grandmother would reply in her thick, old-world accent, “Of course they’re true, but they may not have happened.” She also credits her mother for walking with her from one publisher to another in New York City, criss-crossing the St. Patrick’s Day Parade.  “At the end of the day, together we had homes for several books.”  Patricia is quick to give accolades to those who helped her, from teachers, to friends, from people in the publishing business to friendly people she’s met along the way. She especially praises the many unsung heroes in America: school teachers.

Patricia only sat down for a few brief minutes while I listened to her stories at Glacier Ridge.  “I had knee surgery a few weeks ago, and it’s still a bit sore,” she apologized to the children. Inside she feels like a grade-schooler trapped in an old lady’s body.

If it weren’t for Denise Barr at Crystal Lake School District 47, I would still be oblivious to Patricia Polacco,  who lives just a hop, skip, and a jump from where I grew up. Patricia lives in Union City, Michigan.  A couple of the children from Glacier Ridge, Claire and Adelyn Niedermayer traveled to Michigan last summer to visit Patricia at her farm. Thanks to Denise, I got a chance to talk to the girls and their mother, Andrea.

Claire and Adelyn Niedermayer with Andrea’s aunt, Malorie Nelson. (photo provided by Andrea)
Claire, 7, is in the 1st grade. Her favorite book by Patricia is My Rotten Redheaded Older Brother.  I’ll bet a lot of the children like that book, because at the assembly, they chanted, “Rotten Redheaded Brother,” every time Patricia mentioned her brother.  She redeemed herself in this faded-ginger’s eyes by telling the kids that red hair is lucky, and it’s a good idea to have at least one red-headed friend. Claire likes to draw and color and make things, so it’s no surprise that she appreciates Patricia’s illustration.  “She’s nice and she’s creative,” Claire told me.  Claire has a decision to make before she’s a grown-up.  She’s unsure whether her career will be as a gymnast or a snowboarder.
Adelyn is 9 years-old and in the 4th grade. She says she’s read about 75%  of Patricia’s books.  Some of her favorites include My Rotten Redheaded Older Brother, Fiona’s Lace, Babushka Baba Yaga, and My Ol’ Man. “I like how she talks, and how she tells stories,” Adelynn told me.  “She’s very comforting.” Adelyn and Patricia share the same birthday. Adelyn loves reading and fun projects.  She plans to be either a ballerina or a baker when she grows up.  For sure, she can do both of those things.
Andrea grew up in Rockford, Michigan. When she discovered that Patricia planned an open house, it was a ‘no-brainer’ that the family included a trip to the farm as part of their summer visit. “We got to see her animals: horses, dogs, ram, goats, and  kids,” said Adeline.  “We saw the big house where her eight kittens live, but we only saw four of them.
photo provided by Andrea Niedermayer
Andrea told me that about 95% of the people visiting the farm were school teachers. She first heard of Patricia through the school library.  The first book she read with her girls was Babushka Baba Yaga. “I love fact-based stories,” she said.  At the farm, they visited the cemetery where Patricia’s grandmother’s lucky meteor landed. They visited Patricia’s grandparents’ grave with the name, GAW, carved into the headstone.

Before the children left the assembly, Patricia showed them a piece of her meteor.  She let each child make a wish as they touched the meteor together.

[tweetthis]”You can’t wish for things, you can’t wish to change someone else’s behavior,” she told them.  “Your wish will transform you, because it will come from inside you. You will make it happen.” [/tweetthis]